Photo: This little home library looks cozy for reading a book. Credit: Shutterstock
25. Climbing Ivy
One of the most iconic things about an English cottage is to see climbing ivy. We almost never see it in America, unless you are visiting a literal “Ivy League” school like Princeton or Harvard, where the buildings essentially look like castles.
Even though many of us love to see it, we rarely see climbing ivy on American homes. This is because ivy vines will only grow onto the cracks of a stone or stucco house. It can take decades for ivy to grow big enough to cover an entire house. But if you want to get this look on your own home, you will want to buy some ivy from your local garden center, as well as a climbing trellis.
In the era of college kids going to Ikea, it’s rare to find real wood furniture in American homes anymore. So many people think it’s cheaper and more covenient to get things made out of particle board, even if it eventually falls apart. But in England, you will still see mostly wood furniture, since it was made to last for hundreds of years. It’s common for people to go to charity shops or auctions and pick up pieces of furniture that are meant to last a lifetime.
The same can be done in America, too! Check out your local thrift store or auction house for real wood furniture. Even if a piece looks scratched or worn down, you can still sand the wood and cover it with a new coat of wood stain or paint. If you take care of wooden furniture, it can last for the rest of your life, and be passed down to someone else when you move.
In the United States, it is rare to find a house that is over 100 years old. Many of our older homes were quickly built during the 1950’s to fit all of the Baby Boomers, and were subsequently torn down. But in England, houses were built to last. You might be living in a house that was built hundreds of years ago. The style of the home changes depending on the era it was built. In England, people like to embrace this history by collecting pieces that match the era of the home.
If you live in a house that was built last year, you can’t exactly pretend that an antique is going to match the era. However, there are still plenty of Victorian homes in the United States. If you happen to live in an older building, try to embrace it. You may find that some of the older furniture actually suits your space perfectly.
Since the English love gardening, it only makes sense that they are fascinated by botany, which is the science of studying plants. Some larger country homes will have a conservatory or greenhouse where plants can live. Others decide to have a little area of their home dedicated to botony. This could be done with some gardening books, potter plants, and little glass domes over top of “specimens” (even if it’s actually a faux plant.)
Another great way to add elements of botany to your home is to find old prints of plants. You can create your own artwork by cutting out pages from old books, or find some that have already been created on Etsy. Just search for the keywords “botany art”, and you will find a huge treasure trove of options on Etsy.
In America, we usually have a lot of white or cream colored rooms to help brighten up a space. And we usually stay away from having a color that is too bold on the walls. In England, they love to put colors on the walls, but they can get away with it, because they usually go with muted or pastel tones.
If you use muted colors, you can get away with painting an entire room a certain color, instead of just an accent wall. Some people also paint over the radiators, stair cases, or doors. This gives a lot of character and whimsy to a home, instead of it being the same colors that you see in everyone else’s house.
The stereotype is true- English people drink a lot of tea. They always call it “tea time” or take “tea breaks”, even when they are not actually drinking tea. This could just be having a snack and taking ten minutes to read the newspaper. Even so, they still do drink tea quite a lot, so it only makes sense for them to have a tea set. Most of the time, tea sets are permanently kept on a table or a counter top, since it is used so often on a daily basis.
If you don’t already have one, buying a full tea set is essential to making your home look like an English cottage. You could search for a set at your local thrift store, or buy one online. Bonus points if you find a set that matches the colors of your kitchen. This becomes a fashionable accessory that can also be used to drink out of.
English people work hard to maintain their gardens. So it would only make sense that they want a place to sit and enjoy the great outdoors. An English garden would not be complete without a table and chairs for you to enjoy a nice cup of tea, or at least a bench where you could read a book.
Normally, you would see something made out of painted cast iron so that it could last for years. However, in the United States, finding these pieces might be out of your price range. Every spring and summer, there are outdoor table and chair sets sold in the garden centers of Walmart, Target, Lowes, and Home Depot. If you’re doing this off-season, you can also search through the various styles online.
In large English country homes, there is almost always a “boot room”, which we would call a “mud room” here in the United States. After all, since it’s so rainy, it means that the dirt is usually very muddy. And in the bigger country homes in England, you would have people going outside to ride horses, hunt foxes, and gather firewood. Having a dedicated space to take off your shoes is necessary if you want to keep the rest of the house clean. At the very least, they have an area for their “wellies” or rain boots when you first walk into the room.
Not everyone in America can afford to build an entire boot room in their house. But what you could do is set up a large coat and shoe rack near your front or back door. This way, there is a designated space for you to organize all of your jackets, and take dirty shoes off before you track mud through the house.
Years ago, before the invention of the telephone, people would write letters to one another in order to communicate. So it was very important for everyone to have a proper writing desk in their home. Back then, people were a lot smaller, and they were not sitting at their desk all day long. So in some of these older desks, you’ll find that they might have drawers on the side, and a very small area to put your legs.
Today, we no longer write letters, but you may need a desk to work on your laptop. Some people simply use their kitchen table. But if you want to have a complete English cottage look, try to scope out a cute writing desk at your local thrift store. Bonus points if you decorate it with an antique typewriter, or an ink and quill.
Unlike the United States, we are very patriotic when it comes to flying the American flag. We put up American flags during national holidays, and some people have a flag on their front porch at all times. In England, people rarely fly the Union Jack. They are not anywhere near as patriotic as we are, and it’s rare to see the flag flying anywhere. However, if you are trying to make a British-inspired home, it only makes sense to buy an accessory to show your guests that you are trying to make an English theme.
There are a lot of options to how you can show off the very cool design. You could buy a flag, or maybe a Union Jack Smeg toaster. Or, if you already have red, white, and bleu accessories since you’re an American, you can possibly reuse it for the British flag. Luckily, we still have the same colors, so get creative!
Before there was running water, people in England had to take baths by boiling water on the stove and carrying it over to fill the tub. Many of these clawfoot tubs were made to last for multiple lifetimes, and they still exist in many English cottages. Of course, there are modern replicas that have been made as well. Even if a home doesn’t have a clawfoot tub, it’s likely that they have some sort of tub in the house. Since England can be very cold and rainy, it’s common for people to want to relax with a nice warm bath.
Here in the United States, we are very hardworking, and many of us don’t like to waste time. Bathing is seen as a necessity that we need to get done quickly in the morning by taking a shower for 5 to 10 minutes. Many American houses don’t have a bath at all. And when they do, it’s usually something that looks very dated to the time the house was first built. In England, it’s still very much a part of their culture to make sure there is a bath in the house. There is even a town called Bath, named after the Roman baths that are still in the area. Most English baths- like the clawfoot tub- are so classic that they still look good even after a hundred years.
In English gardens, it’s common to find small statues, fountains, benches, and other stone accent pieces. These are beautiful, and bring art to your outdoor living area. Something I had never seen before visiting England were these face plaques called The Green Man. This is based on a Pagan legend about a nature spirit that brings upon the renewal of spring. These were all over the place when I visited the UK, and I saw several other versions of women’s faces that were very beautiful. Some of these “Green Man” and “Green Woman” plaques also double as a planter.
Here in the United States, it’s not as common to find statues or plaques in people’s backyards. It’s also not easy to find them somewhere like a garden center of Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowe’s. You really need to go to a family-owned garden center where they offer statuaries. A great place to go shopping for “Green Man” plaques is on Etsy, where they have amazing handmade statues created by talented artists from around the world.
In England, they put a huge emphasis on having a really good view out your window. And if you aren’t lucky enough to have a good view, a lot of people try to make one of their own. This is accomplished by giving yourself a lot of flowers or a beautiful tree in your backyard to look at out the back window. Many people also plant flowers in their front window so that they can see it when they look outside. The fact that so many people are into gardening in England makes a big difference in what your view looks like when you look outside.
When I visited England, I was surprised to see how well manicured every single garden was. There wasn’t any trash on the street, and absolutely nothing looked overgrown in the fields. According to the UK Woodland Trust, trees actually drive up property value in England, because it gives you that view of nature. And if trees have something called a Tree Preservation Order, you’re not allowed to cut it down, even if you’re the property owner. This is the polar opposite of how it is in America, where forests are everywhere. Trees are commonplace, and people tend to take them for granted.
Most English homes are heated by radiators. In the bathroom, it’s common to find a towel rack that doubles as a radiator. These are actually amazing, because you can hang a wet towel on it and it will try within a few hours. And if you need to try any laundry, this can also help you to try any wet clothing that you have. These are usually set on a timer, so they can turn on before you wake up in the morning, and the bathroom will be nice and toasty for you when it’s time to take a shower.
Here in the United States, we have towel racks, but they are simply a bar that hangs on the wall. It’s possible to buy a heated towel rack, but they usually run on electricity, rather than the hydraulic heat running through the towel racks in England. If you can afford to buy one, I highly recommend it. They range from $60 to $250 depending on the style and model you choose. While it might seem like a big expense in the short-term, this could be one of those items that helps to sell the home later.
On average, it rains 156 days a year in England. That’s nearly half of the entire year spent in cloudy, wet conditions. Even on days when it’s not raining, the sky still might be overcast. That’s why English people actually appreciate sunlight a lot. And many homes make it a point to have large windows to bring in natural light whenever possible. Sky lights are also commonly put into the roof of a home, which helps give light in the daytime, and make mornings a bit more cheerful.
If you want to bring in the natural sunlight in your own home, the only way to do it is by adding additional windows. You can also remove curtains or replace heavy drapes with sheer ones. Try to pay attention to which rooms in the house gets the most sunlight, and arrange your living around that. With so many people staying home nowadays, it’s still important for you to get your vitamin D, what are you getting it through the window or by going outside in your own backyard.
10. Keep Reusable Bags by the Door For Nearby Shopping
Here in the United States, most of us have to drive at least a mile or more to the nearest grocery store. We are so used to receiving plastic bags that are given to us for free, that we often forget to bring our own reusable bags. But in English villages, there are sidewalks everywhere. Most houses in a village are within walking distance of their High Street, which is what we’d call Main Street here in America. Every High Street usually has at least a small grocery store or news agency where you can buy your everyday essentials like milk, eggs, meat, produce, snacks, and alcohol. You could survive on these High Street shops alone without ever taking a car to a larger grocery store. When I stayed in England, I kept my shopping bags by the front door hanging on the hook so I could grab and go.
Since people can purchase small quantities of groceries when they walk down the street, it’s far more common for English people to use reusable shopping bags. In fact, grocery stores will charge 10p per plastic bag in grocery stores as a way to motivate people to switch to reusable bags. When you go places, you’ll always see these reusable totes and shopping bags for sale. It has become sort of a fashion statement, and people tend to look down on you if you use plastic. Here in the United States, it’s the opposite. There are some people who use reusable bags, but they’re usually seen as being “hipster” because they’re environmentally conscious.
Here in the United States, we tend to all have the same doors in our houses that were manufactured by companies like Home Depot and Lowes. In England, many cottages still have the old doors that have been there for hundreds of years. These include the old style latch locks, which are very cool, and fun to use. These older doors give a lot of historic character to home. It’s a really good reminder of how old the cottage actually is, even if certain aspects of it are modernized.
Here in the United States, if you want to find old doors, you’re going to have to go searching at an antique store. This is a style technique often used by interior designer Joanna Gaines. She loves to find old barn doors, as well as doors from churches and other historic buildings in a local area. Check out a salvage yard, or somewhere like The Habitat for Humanity Restore for leftover building materials.
Most homes in the United Kingdom run on radiator heat. However, there are still a lot of cottages in the countryside that rely on wood burning stoves. Sometimes, people will use both. Unfortunately, radiators don’t heat your house as well as central heating here in the United States. Even when the radiator is on, people in England typically wear sweaters, socks, and slippers indoors to keep themselves warm in the winter. The great thing about having a wood-burning stove is that you can double cooking and heating your house at the same time. One of the most famous stove brands in England is called Aga, and they are known for getting hot enough to heat an entire cottage.
In the United States, you can buy your own wood stove, but it would cost a pretty penny, since they don’t typically come standard like they do in England. Even if you have central heat, it can be a way to bring the temperature of your house up without running the HVAC at all times. This will eventually cut down on the cost of heat. However, if you don’t live in a wooded area, you would need to purchase firewood. The cost of paying for a wood stove and the logs might cancel out the amount you would save.
Everyone has heard of the white picket fence. This is a quintessential part of the American Dream, and it has been popular for decades. But you also find it a lot in England, where people have been using white picket fences in their front yards for as long as anyone can remember. This serves as a barrier between the sidewalk and the front yard. Growing a lot of plants in the front garden can also add a sense of privacy, and make the most out of the front yard.
Before the white picket fence, Europeans have been making stick and stone fences around their property for thousands of years. This was often necessary for keeping out predators and protecting livestock. Now, it’s mostly used for aesthetic purposes. Here in the United States, you should be able to easily find a white picket fence at your local hardware store. Just keep in mind that if you want to install one, you need to abide by height regulations in your local area.
In Europe, it’s not very common for people to have clothing dryers in their home. Even if they have an all-in-one washer and dryer, there are plenty of people who consider this to be very wasteful. People are still practicing the old tradition of hanging their laundry to dry on a sunny day. Believe it or not, many of them even hang their clothes to dry in the winter time. If you need to dry something in the middle of the winter, a lot of people will hang their wet clothes over the radiator or the heated towel rack.
Here in the United States, most houses have a washer and dryer, or we take our clothes to a laundromat where we can rent a dryer. If you want to try hanging your laundry at home, this can help to reduce your electricity cost. It also helps the environment. And in the summertime, you don’t have to heat up your house by running the dryer. Clothing racks are available on Amazon. Or, you could always do the old fashioned method of tying a clothing line between two trees. Clothing line rope is usually sold at Dollar Tree, as well as clothes pins and baskets.
Here in the United States and Canada, a lot of people have at least a half acre to an acre of backyard. Many of us don’t try to put up a fence unless it is absolutely necessary. In fact, some people believe that it is rude or unfriendly to put up a fence between you and your neighbor’s backyard. But in England, it is expected that every single person is going to have a tall privacy fence blocking out their neighbors. As an American, I was shocked to see that many houses in England even had tall fences in the front of their house, too. Since so many people walked to the village, and it’s understandable that they don’t want neighbors seeing into their windows or when walking by.
When you go into a backyard garden in England, it is always so fenced in, that you feel protected. There is little to no chance that nosy neighbors are going to see what you’re doing while you spend time outside. It really does feel like an extension of the house. When I got back home to the US, it really made me crave having that privacy in my own backyard, especially during quarantine, where this was my only option to get outside. If you want to do this at home, this can be accomplished with tall shrubbery, trees, trellises with ivy, or- of course, a tall privacy fence.
Along with the white picket fence, a rose covered trellis is another thing that you can add to your front yard to give it that English cottage vibe. This gives you a beautiful shaded entryway that smells good, too. The Queen of England even has her own rose garden that the public can come visit to get inspired. Noble families around Europe tended to grow their own rose gardens as well. It’s nowhere near as common here in the United States. Even the famous Rose Garden at the White House has been changed and renovated so many times, it’s no longer a rose garden at all.
If you don’t have space in your front yard for a rose covered trellis, this may be something that is more appropriate for a backyard. This can be a great way to segment off your backyard into different gardens and vignettes. A rose trellis is always a welcoming sight, no matter what area of the yard it happens to be in. Before you jump into buying the supplies, do some planning first. Consider hiring a landscape architect if you have enough money in your budget to do so.
In England, eggs and bread are not refrigerated. These are often left out on the counter so that you can reach for them quickly when it’s time to make breakfast. However, if you’re living in the English countryside, there’s always a chance that a mouse might get in the house. A bread box protects your loaf of bread from critters, but it also helps to clean up your countertop.
Here in the United States, our eggs are pasteurized in such a way that makes the egg shells thinner, which is why we need to refrigerate them. And some people put their bread in the fridge to keep bugs away. But if you’re trying to get the English cottage look, a kitchen wouldn’t be complete without a bread box. If you’re looking for a vintage style bread box, you can find these at thrift stores, on eBay or Etsy. Many farmhouse brands are also coming out with bread boxes, which can be found online.
Something that you see a lot in England and France is a painted front door. This gives your house a pop of color that can help you stand out from your neighbors, who most likely kept the standard brown color. In France, a blue door is a symbol of royalty, because the dye was only accessible to the aristocracy for a long time. As soon as commoners were able to afford blue paint and dye, it began to appear all over England and France. This is a sign that you could afford the small luxuries in life, even if it was only enough paint for your front door.
Door knockers are also popular in England, because houses were built long before doorbells existed. A brass door knocker can actually show a lot about your family heritage. For example, in the photos I included in this article, the door knockers are of a lion’s head. This is typically a symbol of English royalty. My family happens to have Irish heritage on both sides, so our brass door knocker is the Claddagh. There are a lot of different shapes and size door knockers out there available online.
In The United Kingdom, many houses in affluent areas have a name plate outside of the home. This isn’t necessarily the name of the family, but rather a nickname given to the house itself. The name can be passed down from one owner to the next, and it’s rarely changed by the new occupant. Anyone who has seen Skyfall already knows that this was the name of James Bond’s family home. The name doesn’t always have to be that original, though. Many people might call their home after their last name, like Quinn Cottage or Smith Manor. In most cases, the name gives a nod to the house’s history.
Here in the United States, naming your house isn’t something people do, because it’s seen as being pretentious. It’s much more common to see a sign with someone’s last name inside of the house, rather than outside. We might have our house number by the door, but that’s it. However, if you want to do this for yourself, you should consider hiring an artist on Etsy to create a custom sign for you. After visiting England, I felt inspired to give our family home a name, since it was built in the 1800’s, and will likely be passed down to me. After much debate, we decided on Cedar Manor, because we’re on a large piece of land next to a cedar forest. However, we haven’t made the sign yet, because we are- in fact- afraid of coming off as pretentious!